Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A confession: I prefer Dickens on TV

I'm currently watching the BBC adaption of 'Little Dorrit' by Charles Dickens. As is typical of the BBC, it really is a classy production with wonderful acting and superb writing by Andrew Davies. I really look forward to each episode and find the story touching and riveting.
But I have a confession to make, I much prefer watching Dickens on TV than reading it. That makes me sound a real philistine and I have tried to counter this by reading a few of his books. The stories are beautifully written, if slightly implausible at times, but I always feel he could get rid of a few chapters and it wouldn't do any harm. My friend Sara and I were discussing this the other day and decided it was because he wrote for serialisation and was probably paid by the word. Not only this but, of course, Dickens was very aware of the dramatic quality of his books and was famous for his readings.
One of the things I find most tiresome, and yet which works wonderfully in an adaption, are the legion of subsidiary characters. Trying to remember who Mr Cherubim Queermucher and Miss Fanny Throttledick are while keeping tabs on the escapades of Mrs Threnody Flaps and the Rev Stipend Mangrove is quite a feat. Not to mention the effort involved in recalling that Mr Scrote Dangler is the long lost brother of his ward Miss Matilda Flangewiper, who is herself involved in a fiendishly complex dispute regarding her inheritance with the aforesaid Mr Queermuncher.
OK I made those characters up (no surely not, I hear you say) but you get my drift. Dickens's book team with people and this is their charm but also my problem in reading them. Sometimes I just yearn for the elegance of Jane Austen where the cast of characters is restricted and inconvenient characters such as dead mothers are given a couple of sentences, if that. Or even Dickens's friend Mrs Gaskell, who peoples her own books with grotesques but they are somehow more human and less archetypal.
I'm hoping that the TV adaption of 'Little Dorrit' will encourage me to read Dickens properly. I don't hold out much hope however - copies of 'Martin Chuzzlewitt' and 'Bleak House' gathering dust on my bookshelves bear witness to past failures.

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